METLAKATLA, Alaska – Drummers and singers welcomed Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy to Metlakatla, with some blowing fluffy white eagle feather down — symbolic of spreading peace in Tsimshian culture — before he went to a meeting with tribal leaders on the only Indian reserve in Alaska.
In Hyder, a tiny southeast Alaska town on the border with Canada, Mark and Amy Bach invited Dunleavy to their house, where they had brownies waiting and most of their 12 children who live at home broke out instruments and sang for him.
In Ketchikan, diners wanting to say hi or get a photo stopped by Dunleavy's table as he ate breakfast with Alaska's chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, and the area's state senator.
In a trip aimed in part at promoting signs of re-emerging normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic, Dunleavy visited the three southeast Alaska communities in one day last week, taking advantage of a streak of sunny weather in a region notorious for its rains for a journey that included float plane travel.
The Republican governor tested positive for COVID-19 in February and has spent most of his term under the threat of a recall effort. He cited increasing vaccine rates and efforts to manage the pandemic in seeking to move the state toward getting back to normal, including resuming trips like the one last Thursday.
“You have to start getting out," Dunleavy said, adding that issues the communities faced related to the pandemic and infrastructure also factored in to the decision. Hearing from people face-to-face is different than getting a letter, he said.
Ketchikan, which relies heavily on tourism, faces a second summer without stops from large cruise ships. Metlakatla officials are seeking to advance an electrical transmission project, and Canadian travel restrictions have affected Hyder, whose only road access is through Canada. Dunleavy and Zink brought COVID-19 vaccines to share with residents of Stewart, British Columbia, a couple miles over the border from Hyder.
The trip also showed the challenges of getting around a state where most communities lack road access in or out.